Don't Waste Raymond Chandler's Time; Roald Dahl Achieves Stamp Immortality

Today in books: The author of The Big Sleep did not like it when Alfred Hitchcock ignored his script suggestions on Strangers on a Train, today's the day to pay your postage with Matilda and Mr. Fox, and the age of the digital cookbook may be arriving sooner than you think.

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Today in publishing and literature: Raymond Chandler did not like it when Alfred Hitchcock ignored his script suggestions on Strangers on a Train, today's the day to pay your postage with Matilda and Mr. Fox, and the age of the digital cookbook may be arriving sooner than you think.

Raymond Chandler did not enjoy the time he spent in Hollywood writing screenplays, a chapter of his life he chronicled for the November 1945 issue of The Atlantic. Five years after that piece appeared, Chandler was still plugging away, and had landed a pretty good assignment: adapting Patricia Highsmith's novel Strangers on a Train for director Albert Hitchcock. The trouble was, Chandler and Hitch didn't get along. (There's a famous, possibly apocryphal story of Hitchcock pulling up outside Chandler's house in a limousine and The Big Sleep author saying none-too-softly, "Look at that fat bastard trying to get out of his car!") Most of Chandler's drafts were thrown, and few of his ideas show up in the film. Letters of Note, the invaluable correspondence blog, tracked down a typed copy of a letter Chandler sent to Hitchcock after reading the final version of the script. He was not impressed.

Dear Hitch,

In spite of your wide and generous disregard of my communications on the subject of the script of Strangers on a Train and your failure to make any comment on it, and in spite of not having heard a word from you since I began the writing of the actual screenplay—for all of which I might say I bear no malice, since this sort of procedure seems to be part of the standard Hollywood depravity—in spite of this and in spite of this extremely cumbersome sentence, I feel that I should, just for the record, pass you a few comments on what is termed the final script. I could understand your finding fault with my script in this or that way, thinking that such and such a scene was too long or such and such a mechanism was too awkward. I could understand you changing you mind about the things you specifically wanted, because some of such changes might have been imposed on you from without. What I cannot understand is your permitting a script which after all had some life and vitality to be reduced to such a flabby mass of clichés, a group of faceless characters, and the kind of dialogue every screen writer is taught not to write—the kind that says everything twice and leaves nothing to be implied by the actor or the camera. Of course you must have had your reasons but, to use a phrase once coined by Max Beerbohm, it would take a "far less brilliant mind than mine" to guess what they were.

Regardless of whether or not my name appears on the screen among the credits, I'm not afraid that anybody will think I wrote this stuff. They'll know damn well I didn't. I shouldn't have minded in the least if you had produced a better script—believe me. I shouldn't. But if you wanted something written in skim milk, why on earth did you bother to come to me in the first place? What a waste of money! What a waste of time! It's no answer to say that I was well paid. Nobody can be adequately paid for wasting his time.

(Signed, 'Raymond Chandler')

[Letters of Note]

England cannot decide what is to be done with Roald Dahl's dilapidated writing shack, but the Royal Mail at least has been kind enough to pay tribute to Dahl and longtime illustrator Quentin Blake with a series of stamps commemorating their most famous books, including The Twits, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The stamps go on sale today, and are accompanied by a special sheet of four stamps marking the 30th anniversary of the publication of The BFG. [BBC]

On New Year's Eve, Los Angeles Times book critic David Ulin found himself on live radio talking about Stephen King's 11/22/63, which The New York Times had just named one of its top ten books of 2011. That led to the inevitable discussion regarding King's "merit as a writer, which, almost 40 years after he began to publish, remains a source of conversation, if no longer quite debate." Ullin didn't care much for 11/22/63 , because it was over-long and meandered from plot point to plot point, but seeing the author get bogged down in his own conceit was also a reminder that King knows his fellow man better than almost any other novelist publishing today. Beyond the mechanics, of plot, of horror," writes Ulin, "what King offers are domestic interactions, slices of family and civic life. He uncovers our anxieties, our worries, our obsessions -- the inner darkness we all know....the key to his writing, that when he's on, no one is better at prying open the ordinary reality of evil, the way our nightmares emerge from our daily experience, from our fears and our frustrations, our envy and our rage...what makes writing literature, after all, but the extent to which it expresses our complicated humanity? And what is the essence of humanity if not conflict, the ongoing struggle between the sublime and the base?" Ulin says he was tempted to pull out his copy of The Shining to prove a point, but hesitated, because he didn't want to experience the "Grand Guignol" aspects of the book, in which a father going on a rampage against his family at an isolated ski resort.  Even in King's most unapologetically scary books, he's studying human frailty above all else. The Shining, therefore, is a "tale of dissolution" posing as a haunted hotel story. The horror comes from "the notion of watching a soul get laid to waste." [Jacket Copy]

An Indian Muslim cleric has called on Salman Rushdie not to attend the Jaipur literary festival later this month, on the grounds that he has "hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims in the past." The festival in Jaipur is the biggest literary festival on the continent of Asia. The comments stem back to the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988, when Ayatollah Khomeini put a bounty out on the English author's head and all copies of the book were banned in India. A festival organizer told The Guardian that Rushdie "absolutely" will be in attendance later this month. [The Guardian]

Rachael Ray has ditched longtime publisher Random House to sign a new three-book deal with Atria, a Simon & Schuster imprint. She's going to get the chance to "curate her own series of books written by other chefs and food writers." What's notable is that her imprint is going to include "print and digital titles." How (or maybe just if) they find a way to do this is going to be interesting, since cook books have always struck us as one of the few types of books that people just be able to accept or efficiently utilize in e-book format. [GalleyCat]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.